A deadline approaches for Albertans to again have their say on leaving the Canada Pension Plan, this time by completing and submitting the Your Pension, Your Choice workbook.
A public engagement panel struck by the government is accepting submissions of the 18-page workbook until Feb. 28, the same day the legislature resumes after breaking for Christmas.
The NDP opposition, meanwhile, continues to hold in-person town halls, something the engagement panel has so far not done. Your Pension is Yours town halls are slated for eight communities.
The panel announced in early December that it was putting consultations on hold, pending the receipt of financial information from the Office of the Chief Actuary of Canada. The actuary is arriving at its own calculation of what an Alberta withdrawal amount would be.
Earlier, a provincial government-commissioned report from the firm LifeWorks estimated Alberta would be entitled to $334 billion or 53 per cent of base Canada Pension Plan assets. The calculation is disputed as too high by the Alberta opposition, by elected officials from outside Alberta and by the CPP Investment Board. The investment board estimated that CPP would owe Alberta about 16 per cent of the fund.
Despite the public engagement pause, press secretary Savannah Johannsen of Alberta Treasury Board and Finance confirmed that the panel is still collecting comments and opinions from Albertans, via the workbook. Those who complete the workbook can submit theirs electronically by using a fillable online form or emailing them, by posting them, or by dropping then off at any MLA office.
Find the workbook and submission details at www.albertapensionplan.ca.
Federal Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre of the Conservative Party of Canada entered the Alberta pension plan fray late last year. In a statement urging Albertans to stay in the national plan, he said that as prime minister he would “protect and secure the CPP for Albertans and all Canadians.”
No province or territory has withdrawn from the CPP since the federal government established it in 1965. Quebec operates its own plan and never opted in.
The opposition house leader characterized consultations by the engagement panel as a meandering and crewless ghost ship. Christina Gray, NDP MLA for Edmonton-Mill Woods, said the panel’s consultation has been “drifting, aimless and seemingly abandoned by this government.”
In a member statement to the legislature, she called on the provincial government to “leave the CPP alone.”
The engagement panel has held no in-person town halls so far. Telephone town halls heard from 150 pre-screened Albertans, said Gray, “and now silence.”
But supporters of continuing to investigate a provincial plan called it a way to keep money in the province at no cost to Albertans.
Jason Stephan, the UCP MLA for Red Deer-South, said workers could save $1,000 or more each year under an Alberta pension plan. “That can be a very big deal for Albertans,” said Stephan, who like Gray sits on the legislature’s standing committee on Alberta’s economic future.
The legislature rejected an NDP motion to compel the government to abide by results of a pension referendum on the idea. But the legislature passed the Alberta Pension Protection Act without the amendment, and it came into force before Christmas.
The government’s online overview of the act says it does what the opposition asked for: “The Alberta Pension Protection Act guarantees the government won’t launch an Alberta Pension Plan unless Albertans vote in favour of it in a referendum.”
But the act itself doesn’t say that. A lieutenant governor’s order calling for the referendum would detail whether results are binding, the act says.
The online overview continues: “The act also guarantees that Albertans would pay the same or lower contribution rates and receive the same or better benefits as the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). It also ensures the assets transferred to Alberta from the CPP would only be used to set up a pension plan and operate it in the best interests of Albertans.”
Consultations so far through the engagement panel comprise an online survey, telephone town halls and the workbook. More than 760,000 Albertans participated telephone town halls, says the province’s website. About 94,000 Albertans completed an online survey, but critics said it lacked objectivity and failed to ask whether respondents favour an Alberta pension plan.
In the workbook, an option exists for respondents to select one of a range of answers from “definitely not” to “definitely” when asked whether they support moving to an Alberta pension plan.
NDP Town Halls
The NDP is accepting registrations now for eight more town halls. They are:
Central Edmonton, Jan. 30, 6 p.m.
Lethbridge, Jan. 30, 6 p.m.
Medicine Hat, Jan. 31, 6 p.m.
High River, Feb. 1, 6 p.m.
Edmonton South, Feb. 6, 6:30 p.m.
Drumheller, Feb. 9, 6 p.m.
Calgary South, Feb. 11, 2 p.m.
Calgary North Central, Feb. 24, 11 a.m.
Interested Albertans can register for any of the NDP town halls at www.albertasfuture.ca. Also on the site is a survey that asks: “Should Alberta leave the Canada Pension Plan?” Options are yes, no and unsure. Those who select yes or no are given space to expand.
Opposition Leader Rachel Notley told the legislature before Christmas that two NDP-organized town halls had 85 and 90 per cent of attendees against Alberta withdrawing from the CPP, based on shows of hands. At the Red Deer-South event, UCP MLA Jason Stephan attended—“I’ll give credit where credit is due,” said Notley.
But she noted during Question Period that Finance Minister Nate Horner has not attended NDP town halls and that she finds it unusual that he gets second-hand information about them.
Horner said: “There is no endgame here other than having a conversation with Albertans about something that the federal government has made clear to me. . .is totally the right of a province to consider. Knowing that, we’ll continue with our engagement.
“The first round is complete. I look forward to meeting with the panel to talk about next steps. This is a complicated idea, admittedly, brought to us by the Fair Deal Panel. It has great potential and promise for Albertans. We look forward to having the conversation.”
The Fair Deal Panel made its final report to the province in May 2020, recommending ways to strengthen Alberta’s voice in Confederation. One idea was the exploration of an Alberta pension plan.
Your Pension, Your Choice Workbook
As its name suggests, the Your Pension, Your Choice workbook encourages Albertans to do some homework, primarily by reviewing the LifeWorks report and the workbook’s discussion notes. It’s also made up of nine questions or requests for comments, plus three demographic questions.
Included in the workbook are explanations of how CPP works and the advantages and risks if Alberta leaves it. It describes the mechanics, costs and potential savings of leaving and instituting a replacement plan, Alberta’s place in CPP, and how government oversight of public pension plans works.
Most of the questions are open-ended and require written responses, like: “Does the size of Alberta’s asset share matter to you and, if so, why?” and “If Alberta exited the CPP and started an APP, how would you want the pensions assets managed?”
By George Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Jan 25, 2024 at 11:32